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Formula One steps away from radical reform

F1 officials announced two more drivers would get points in every grand prix and a shake-up in qualifying among changes designed to spice up the sport after a year of Ferrari domination. Team orders, when a driver is instructed to let a team mate past, will be prohibited from 2003. The International Automobile Federation's (FIA) Formula One Commission considered several proposals, including a weight handicapping system for dominant drivers, on Monday but stepped away from radical reforms. "The ballast (issue) was thrown out," said FIA chief Max Mosley. "People thought it was better to find a solution without putting people under pressure. "We all felt we would like to see Schumacher or whoever trying to win the championship as best he could without extra difficulty. We hope the new qualifying system will shake it up." The axing of the Belgian Grand Prix in a row over tobacco advertising was confirmed, but the race might be re-introduced in 2004. The top eight drivers will be awarded points in grands prix next season compared with six at present. The winner will receive 10 points as before, but the second placed driver now gets eight points rather than six. Third place receives six points, then five, four, three, two and one for the following five in the top eight. "Next season is going to be interesting," said Ferrari team boss Jean Todt. There will be two qualifying sessions compared to the current one, with one qualifying lap for each car and cars to run one at a time. "It'll be surprising if we don't see close racing next season but close racing depends on the leading teams all doing a good job not just one and they are determined to do that," said Mosley. TEAM ORDERS Team orders have triggered controversy for many seasons. World champion Michael Schumacher benefitted this year when Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello let him past to win the Austrian race in May. Falling television audiences after a season of Ferrari domination -- they won 15 of 17 races, Michael Schumacher won the world championship and his team mate Rubens Barrichello was runner-up -- caused much soul-searching within the sport. "The team orders are gone which is the most important thing," said former world champion Niki Lauda, now Jaguar's team boss. Mosley said teams would be watched very carefully for signs of interference: "If there is suspicion we will take it in front of the stewards," he said. Of the overall changes Lauda said: "It's the best compromise that could be achieved because we didn't change Formula One or add weight." BELGIAN RACE AXED At present there is one hour of qualifying on a Saturday at grands prix. Fans complain that drivers do not drive flat out on the Friday and many cars stay in the pits for much of the Saturday qualifying with little excitement on the track. Next season there will be qualifying on Friday and Saturday, with the fastest driver on Friday racing last on Saturday. Formula One has agreed to phase out all sponsorship by tobacco companies in 2006 in line with a global embargo favoured by the World Health Organisation. Belgium has not followed the example of several European countries which have offered a special dispensation from domestic legislation limiting tobacco advertising to motor racing until 2006. "Other countries adapted and Belgium did not," Lauda said. "Some countries allow tobacco and this is the problem (for Belgium). The decision was that we need tobacco because in the world economy today we need to keep every sponsor and not frighten them away. "It's very important to have advertising on cars -- this is the principle of Formula One, you need any sponsor." TOBACCO SPONSORSHIP Five Formula One teams including world champions Ferrari have tobacco sponsorship. Spa has hosted 36 Belgian Grands Prix. Mosley said the race could be re-introduced in 2004 if Belgium introduced an exemption from legislation. In a last-gasp rescue attempt, two Belgian senators said they planned to introduce a bill to the upper house of parliament this week aimed at postponing the date when the country's anti-tobacco law comes into effect. Their original bid to protect Belgium's grand prix failed in July when Green and Christian Democrat senators rejected a bill that would have lifted the ban on cigarette advertising for Spa's annual race. "The aim (of the bill) is simply to postpone the application of the law until September 30, 2003," French-speaking Liberal Senator Philippe Monfils said in a statement, citing the economic benefits of the race for the Spa region. "If this bill was approved, next year's grand prix would be saved, giving us the time to examine a definitive solution," Monfils said.

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